People tend to see me as relentlessly cheerful, and my work as vibrant and colorful. Today I have the Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black” stuck in my head. Today I feel hurt, betrayed, shocked, fearful, bitter and white-hot with fury. Today I will quarantine myself from other humans to avoid lashing out and saying awful things. Today I will clean my messy studio and catch up on mindless tasks. Today I’m putting my proverbial house in order, because tomorrow I need to be ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work. We all do. #imstillwithher
I don’t know about you, but on this, the National Park Service centennial, this millennial is paging through her big fat stack of stamped pages, proof of a lifetime of national parks love. Apparently I like to cram that ink into every nook and cranny of my passport—but that’s good, because I’m trying to leave room for many more to come. Happy 100th birthday, NPS—here’s to many more!
I shot this photo of Jessica typesetting at the Thorniley Collection of Type last year, where she and I were asked to help inventory and appraise the collection (a dream-job moment that I promise to tell you about sometime!).
And then today I came across this short documentary, about the very last edition of the New York Times that was printed from linotype. The year was 1978, and the newspaper was mothballing all its hot-type equipment in order to adopt the brand new, cutting-edge, cold-type technology of phototypesetting. (Phototypesetting was in turn mothballed about 15 years later, when desktop publishing—design software, computer fonts, etc.—hit the mainstream.) If you’re at all interested in printing and have a half hour, I highly recommend the film, as it’s fascinating.
I loved seeing my professional ancestors at work in the film, but I had to laugh, because it struck me that my own career has been a bit, well, backwards.
I got my BFA in the early aughts; much of my design coursework focused on current print technology: design software, digital typography, etc. (Though of course, I was ornery and insisted on including hand-lettering, which was deeply unpopular at the time, in almost everything I did.)
My first industry job, however, was a throwback: I was a production designer doing paste-up at an offset printer that still did phototypesetting. This wasn’t all that long ago: by then that technology was a total dinosaur. At the time they were one of the last presses in the whole country still relying on those processes. The video above demonstrates the paste-up process, but basically the job description is what it sounds like. We took little bits of printed text and photos and, using razor blades and hot wax, pasted them onto a collaged layout that was then photographed and turned into a printing plate. I got to spend my days in a quiet room lit only by light tables, with three other girls who were as introverted as I. I can still smell the wax whenever I think of it—I loved that job, and I loved that smell.
A year or so later I got a job as a graphic designer at a firm, so I guess in that sense I went “forward” in time. But that same month I also got into letterpress printing—proof that my personal tastes were still decidedly cattywampus. I basically did what the printers at the New York Times did in reverse order, trading my cold-type skills in for hand-set hot metal.
And now, while I still keep a finger in both the letterpress (thanks to my collaboration with Jessica) and digital pies, overall I’ve kind of moved backwards in time again. Now I mostly spend my days with the really old-school equipment of paintbrushes and pencils.
And that’s just fine with me. Who says progress has to go only in one direction?
Inside the house we have these this morning…
…but Valentine’s Day looks a little different in the yard. Spring is already on its way here, so we have to seize the moment and get going on the massive pile of landscaping projects we have planned for the year.
So we’re spending our romantic weekend with chainsaws and tree stumps. Hope your Valentine’s Day is a special one, too—whether you stick to tradition or not!
Well, now that it’s been a whole year since I first showed you these, and the secret no longer needs keeping, I can tell you about what I did today. Today is the start of the lunar new year, and here in Tacoma we have a tradition that proves how wonderful this town is, year after year. The tradition is called “Monkeyshines,” a public treasure hunt through the city that falls on (or around) the first day of Chinese new year each year. The name comes from the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese zodiac cycle, exactly twelve years ago, when an anonymous artist going by the name “Ms. Monkey” created a few hundred colorful hand-blown glass floats, each one stamped with a monkey design, and hid them all over the city. Anyone who found one could take it home with them, and since only Ms. Monkey’s inner circle knew about it, it came as a complete surprise to those lucky few who found treasure that year. Over the years the tradition has grown and the secret has spread like wildfire, with more and more beautiful pieces of glass art being hidden around Tacoma with each cycle of the zodiac. Since the only rule is “take only one,” many people have taken to rehiding the ones they find, or contributing their own handmade treasures to the hunt. Not that it’s easy to find multiple Monkeyshines—or even one! Even now that there are thousands of treasures hidden each year, it’s still like finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. I’d never been lucky myself, coming up empty-handed year after year.
2015, the Year of the Ram, completed the 12-year zodiac cycle that started with that first treasure hunt. Ms. Monkey approached me (no, I won’t tell you who she is!) and asked if I would contribute some “Monkeyshines” of my own to the cause. I jumped at the chance: even though I’d never found a glass float myself, I loved the hunt, and by then I’d amassed a mental database of potential hidey-holes. By then I was more excited about the prospect of hiding treasure than of finding it. Besides, even though my work has been moving away from letterpress printing in recent years, it was fun to do a printing project again.
So I whipped up a little medallion design, and hand-carved it in linoleum.
Then I threw it onto my tiny tabletop press, and set to work.
I printed close to 500 medallions (until I ran out of paper and the block started to break down!), and then hand-assembled them in the style of my other letterpress ornaments.
And then came the fun part: hiding them all over Tacoma.
Since there were so many medallions, and I had to go out of town over Chinese new year, I enlisted friends to help, and staggered my own distribution over several weeks. Together we managed to canvass almost the entire city map, hitting both well-traveled areas and less-visited neighborhoods.
The hiding was, indeed, the best part. I loved walking inconspicuously at weird hours, my hands stuffed in my pockets and posing as a searcher, waiting until the coast was clear to pop another medallion into one of Tacoma’s nooks and crannies. Sometimes I’d hang around and wait nearby until someone came by and discovered what I’d left behind. It was a thrill every time.
I saved this pictured for last because it echoes this year’s odyssey, when my chance finally came. Fast forward to this morning, and it’s the Year of the Monkey all over again. Since it’s now become a tradition as ingrained as Christmas, there was no question that I’d resume the hunt. A friend came to pick me up at 4:30 am, and after a quick swig of coffee, we set out.
And in less than an hour, in my eighth year of searching, I finally found my first glass Monkeyshine! Just like the previous picture, it was in the mouth of a fish sculpture—this one in the middle of a fountain downtown. Luckily for me, there was only about an inch of water in the fountain, so all I had to do was climb in and step right up. And yes, if the fountain had been full of water, I would have gone in anyway, 35-degree weather be darned. I wouldn’t have been the only one—tales of people braving murky koi ponds and polar-plunging into the Bay have become the stuff of legend around here. For some things it’s worth getting soaked and dirty!
My friend is still searching for his Monkeyshine—we spent the rest of the morning hunting on his behalf, but even if he doesn’t find one this year, we made sure to pay it forward by hiding a few small monkey-themed treasures ourselves.
So now I’m back home, refreshed after a nap and a hot cuppa tea, admiring the Monkeyshine that’s serendipitously in my favorite color. SO many thanks to Ms. Monkey, all her fellow ‘Shiners, all the friends and friendly strangers I hunted with this morning, and my art-loving city. Thank you for making this happen year after year, for making my year so far, and for bringing us all together for a chance to play explorer in our own hometown. Gung hay fat choy!
It’s been a tough couple of weeks around here, and it’s the time of year when the Northwest is shrouded in a dark silver cloud most days. But just out my studio window is an early-blooming camellia, giving me a pop of spring color just when I need it most.
It’s a tradition in my family that when a beloved musician dies, we play their entire back catalog of records in chronological order. I grew up on David Bowie as a kid, and then started feverishly collecting albums almost 20 years ago. By the time I’d amassed pretty much everything he’d ever done, I started joking that when his day came, it’d take me a month to play it all. I’m sorry that that day is already here.
I don’t usually write or post these days about the music I love, because taste is so personal and so subjective. But music is a huge part of my life, and I’ve loved Bowie’s music better and longer than anything else.
And more than that, Bowie has had an enormous influence on me as a visual artist—and I’m not talking about the fan-girl comic-book concert reviews I used to draw for the RISD newspaper, circa 2002 (and I think they only let me do that because my friends were the editors).
What I mean is that Bowie was a huge cultural force, a tastemaker—and I delved into his work at the time when I was forming my own tastes and just beginning to make my own responses to my culture.
I hesitate to show you these, because most of my student work makes me cringe, but these were part of a series of fake concert posters (of real, historical concerts) I did when I was just starting to do formal lettering work. The lettering is neither her nor there, but it was Bowie’s ever-changing alter egos that inspired me to use different historical periods as the inspiration for each poster. Bowie himself was heavily influenced by history and different cultural traditions—much of it of the non-musical variety—from Kabuki theatre to current events to French mimes to dystopian novelists to Picasso paintings to couture apparel designers, and everything in between. I remember this fact blowing my mind at the time, and it encouraged me to seek inspiration for my work away from my own field and contemporaries. That’s still the primary way I work, and I owe that to him.
The other thing Bowie taught me was not to be afraid to reinvent myself, to change direction and explore something new or totally different. He taught me that it’s possible to create many different types of things, in a wide range of styles that might bear little resemblance to one another, and still come away with a cohesive body of work. As a cultural omnivore who learned from the best of them, that makes perfect sense to me. Yet we still live in a world that largely expects artists to pick one medium, one genre, one style, one “signature” thing and stick with it forever and ever, amen. To reject that notion and follow one’s own path, wherever it might lead, takes a lot of bravery and faith in oneself (and one’s audience!). Bowie’s instincts were unparalleled. He knew how to be broad and deep all at once—he could change a thousand times and never come across as a flake. Instead, he added a new and exotic ingredient to every concoction, until he became one hell of a master chef. If even the smallest fraction of that bravery and instinct might rub off on me, I’ll count myself luckier than I can say.
The things we love are a part of who we are and what we contribute to the world ourselves. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, our influences come full circle and bring the things we make in contact with that which inspires us. I got to have a short conversation with David Bowie once, over a decade ago, because of one of those fake posters I designed. I brought this one, printed at a huge size, to a show where I had a front-row seat. During a lull I held it up, and he said nice things to me and asked if I had a request. I told him, and he launched into a 20-minute rendition of “Station to Station.” When it was over, he asked if the rendition was to my liking—I responded with a curtsy, and he laughed and said, “Good curtsy! Nobody curtsies anymore!”
All my friends and family know I’m a huge Bowie fan, and have been emailing and texting me all day about him. My brother sent me the setlist of a mix tape of favorite Bowie songs I made him as a teenager. The sequence of songs still holds up well today, I think, and suddenly it seems like the perfect sendoff. Here they are, with just one small change:
2. Fantastic Voyage
3. Rock n’ Roll with Me
4. Panic in Detroit
5. It’s No Game
7. The Man Who Sold the World
9. Queen Bitch
10. All the Madmen
11. Beauty & The Beast
12. Sound & Vision
13. Andy Warhol
14. Moonage Daydream
15. Boys Keep Swinging
16. Ashes to Ashes
17. After All
18. Drive-in Saturday
Raising a glass to Major Tom, to Ziggy, to Aladdin Sane, to Halloween Jack, to the Thin White Duke, to the Blackstar, wherever you are now. You were, are, and will forever be my favorite—and my first influence. Cheers.
A lot of things had to fall by the wayside in the past few months (including this blog!), while some major projects ruled my life. The big deadlines still hold sway for now, but I’ve started to catch up in other ways. The holidays are done and dusted, the end-of-year to-do-lists are crossed off (mostly), and this huge stack of greetings is in the mail. Here’s to turning the page, and writing (and drawing!) the next chapter.
Happy New Year!
Shooting grainy on-the-fly night photos doesn’t always yield the best results, but it’s done a great job of documenting this year’s Season of Light. I hope yours is as warm and bright as ours has been, and that you are surrounded by joy while the sun makes its way back to us.
Good Yule, and Merry Christmas.